Articles in Category: Imports

By now most of you may have heard that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez devalued the Venezuelan bolivar earlier this week.   By changing (or some would say manipulating) its currency from 2.15 bolivars to the dollar to 4.3 bolivars to the dollar, Venezuelans will now enjoy skyrocketing inflation (some predict it could exceed 60%). With annual inflation of 27% already, Venezuela has taken a page out of the Zimbabwe Macro-Economic Policy guidebook (sarcasm intended). So who are the intended beneficiaries of the policy?

Clearly Chavez initiated the policy to bolster a weak economy by pushing exports. With this new strategy, US value-add manufactured equipment producers, particularly drilling and oilfield equipment, chemicals, industrial engines, and computer accessories makers will suffer as the price for their goods becomes only more expensive but prohibitively expensive. And already, the Wall Street Journal reported that our trade deficit widened by $36.4b in November due to a faster rise in imports vs. exports.

So the question becomes this is this currency manipulation? This University of Michigan site defines currency manipulation as follows, “The use of exchange market intervention to keep the exchange rate above or below the equilibrium exchange rate. The term is most likely to be applied to a country that keeps its currency undervalued for the purpose of making its good more competitive. The most interesting definition within “currency manipulation relates to the ‘equilibrium exchange rate definition’ which appears as follows:

“This is ambiguous, since there is no single agreed upon model of the exchange rate:
1. The exchange rate at which supply and demand for a currency are equal.
2. The exchange rate at which there is balance of payments equilibrium.
3. The exchange rate at which purchasing power parity holds, in some form.
4. The exchange rate at which the expected change in the exchange rate, in the near future, is zero.
5. The exchange rate at which the country’s international reserves are neither rising nor falling.

Vietnam devalued its currency by 5% late last year, in an attempt to boost exports. Japan did it too during their “lost decade. Venezuela has now devalued its currency by 50%. In fact, this Reuters article discusses how the “Fair Currency Coalition, comprised of many metal producing industries, particularly steel believes the Venezuelan currency devaluation serves as a proxy for understanding what China has been doing with its currency since 2000. The coalition is behind two bills in Congress S1027 and HR 2378, designed to “slap duties on imports from countries with prolonged misaligned currencies.

In a follow-up post, we’ll take a look at the Big Mac Index in conjunction with China’s currency as well as US currency history and discuss how it relates to our trade deficit.

–Lisa Reisman

All of a sudden there are multiple datu points around the US economy that indicate a positive trend. Businesses unexpectedly increased their inventories by 0.2% in October, halting a slide of 13 consecutive months of decline. The small gain was set against an expectation of a 0.3% decline, raising hopes that businesses will begin restocking their depleted inventory, helping support the economic recovery.

The trade gap fell to $32.9 billion as exports rose 2.6% according to a Reuters article, the sixth straight monthly gain. Imports rose 0.4%, partly reflecting lower oil imports. “U.S. exports appear to be improving much faster than the domestic economy, suggesting that much of the improvement seen in the manufacturing sector reflects strengthening economic conditions abroad and the impact of the weaker dollar,” said Nomura Securities economist David Resler.

In October, manufactured goods exports were 2.8% higher than in September, with capital-goods exports rising 3.7% over the month, according to the National Association of Manufacturers quoted in the Wall Street Journal. “21 of the 32 capital goods categories showed growth indicates that the export recovery is broadening,” said Frank Vargo, a vice president of   the trade group.

Retail sales in the United States have risen for the second straight month, boosting hopes that a major component of US economic activity is rebounding said an ABC News report. Consumer spending makes up two-thirds of the American economy and is a key to US economic growth. So when the US Commerce Department says retail sales rose 1.3% last month, more than double the 0.6% increase analysts had expected even flat spending in other sectors can’t dampen a positive trend.

A forecast for a 2.4% annualized growth rate in the fourth quarter was unchanged from last month mostly due to economists’ belief that the ‘cash for clunkers’ incentive program, which expired in August, pulled demand for vehicles forward into the third quarter according to a poll carried out by Reuters. Construction is still flat but building materials showed 1.5% growth suggesting DYI may be picking up if home starts aren’t.

All in all a positive end to a horrible year and a good note on which to be starting the new decade.

–Stuart Burns

Calls for a halt to the dollar’s slide by foreign owners of US assets such as the Chinese and fellow trading blocks like the EU and Japan that are struggling to compete with a weak dollar have been joined by a supporter from an unexpected quarter  recently.

Klaus Kleinfeld, chief executive of America’s Alcoa is reported in the FT as saying the aluminum producer took a $57m hit in the third quarter due to the weakening dollar and Levi Straus took a $16m currency hit in the second quarter. While these and other companies like Yum Brands and Biomet reported in USA Today don’t go into much detail about exactly where the losses arose, when corporations are manufacturing in so many locations, Alcoa operates in 31 different countries, local currency movements impact the bottom line when the costs are rolled back in the dollar denominated corporate accounts.

Most of the cost increases are going to come from those countries that have strong currencies, often boosted by a heavy reliance in commodities such as Brazil, Australia, South Africa, etc. Manufacturing costs are incurred locally but the products manufactured and often exported are usually sold in US dollars.

Some US corporations like Levi Straus use currency hedges according to Roger Fleischmann, Levi’s Treasurer. If the market moves the wrong way, profits are preserved but the hedge shows up as a currency loss on the books.

Timing has been another problem this year. As subsidiary costs and sales are rolled up into the corporate books they are at the mercy of timing, come in at the right time and the exchange rates give a kind number on the costs, come in at the wrong time and they are valued as a loss. The third quarter hit many firms in that fashion.

Finally, firms that rely heavily on imports, either of components or raw materials can also suffer as the dollar weakens. What’s good for the exporter is bad for the importer, and on balance the US is a net importer.

–Stuart Burns

The German manufacturing sector has been enduringly robust over the last 30 years. Even recently, a developed mature economy which still generates a lot of its GDP from manufacturing has proved extremely resilient in the face of persistently high European Central Bank interest rates and rising raw material costs. Much of this is down to efficiency improvements squeezed out of the manufacturing sector in the first half of the decade, investments in automation, outsourcing of components and services to Eastern Europe and low wage inflation. Germany is the core economy in the Euro zone, those EU countries that have adopted the single currency.

One advantage manufacturers in the Euro zone have enjoyed over the last few years has, perversely enough, been a strong currency. But that hurts exports you will (rightly) say, look at how a surge in exports is helping US manufacturing in a period of domestic downturn. Quite right but the flip side is it reduces the cost of not only imports but in this case any dollar denominated purchases. So commodities, at least oil and base metals which are largely dollar driven products, should have proved less inflationary for Euro zone manufacturers than for US manufacturers.

Three years ago aluminum was trading at $2000/ton and one Euro equalled $0.84. This week, aluminum is at $3000/ton and one Euro equals $0.63. So US consumers have seen a 50% increase in the cost of their raw material, but Euro zone consumers have only seen a 26% increase. The position becomes even more pronounced in copper. Prices  have moved from $6700/ton three years ago to $8360/ton this week, an increase for US consumers of 25% but for Euro zone consumers only 4.8%.

Fine you say but then they come to export and that turns on its head as the strong Euro makes them less competitive, negating the benefit of lower raw material cost increases. True but only a portion of any country’s production is exported, less still is exported outside of the trading block. For the Euro zone  only 21% of GDP is derived from exports, made up of both goods and services, the other 79% is internal consumption. As this is goods and services, the value of goods is closer to 15%, so in reality for much of the Euro zone, commodity price increases have been modest compared to the US. This is perhaps why the ECB can afford to focus on inflation rather than boosting the economy. So far the economy has been doing just fine, thank you very much.

Currency is an oft overlooked piece in commodity costs, because most commodities are either traded in dollars or at least price fixed in dollars.   We tend to ignore movements in other currencies. For a US consumer that is fine but for a global manufacturer or company engaged in extensive overseas sales, currency becomes as big an issue as metal costs ” making an already complex two dimensional game into a three dimensional nightmare.

MetalMiner is developing some tools to create greater clarity in this area in the months to come. Anyone interested in receiving further details can pre register below:

–Stuart Burns

In a bizarre move driven by anticipated changes in Chinese export taxes, steel imports in the USA surged by nearly 35% as tonnage increased from 1.98m tons in December to 2.66m tons in January, according to the Precision Metalforming Association in Purchasing.com.  That is still some 18% below January 2007, and against a back drop of much reduced imports over the last 6 months as the weak dollar and rising world prices have made imports unattractive. This is bizarre in part because the changes in the 13% export rebate never actually happened at the year end, but also bizarre because much of the surge in process these last few months has been possible because of reduced imports. Read more

The brass producers and distributors are under pressure, and I don’t just mean water pressure [pun intended]. Copper and brass shipments in the USA have been down since the summer of 2007 due to continued cut backs in new housing construction starts. The housing industry is by far the largest end user of copper and brass products at around 40% of total consumption and finds it way into faucets and valves, brass fittings, HVAC or electrical wiring and connectors. The average new US single family home uses some 400 pounds of various brass and copper products. And, if the public begins to reduce spending on home remodels, there will be an even greater affect on the brass market because the ratio of sales for remodelling to new build is 3 to 1. According to Forbes, the news has not been pretty for building products manufacturer Masco and Home Depot Read more

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